Twenty-five years ago, a group of students came together from Newport High School and started a club, which later transformed into an elective course, to educate their peers about AIDS. These students were affected by the HIV epidemic and were passionate about doing something innovative for their community. This group became known as ASPEN (AIDS Student Peer Educators at Newport). In addition to this being ASPEN’s 25th year as a group, it is also ASPEN’s 25th year participating in the Seattle AIDS Walk.
Although the first wave of students that got involved with ASPEN was more directly affected by the HIV epidemic, today’s students are just as determined and motivated to advocate for the HIV community, despite not having an immediate connection to HIV. “We recognize the Seattle AIDS Walk as a communal opportunity to get together and do what we can to acknowledge and prevent HIV,” explains Carter Bass, second year ASPEN student. Megan McDonald, another second year ASPEN student adds, “I think it also really shows that the next generation is continuing to fight for change, and everyone at the Seattle AIDS Walk can see what the younger generation is doing to help.” Whether you are a person with HIV, a person who knows someone with HIV, a person who is passionate about sexual health, or just a person who wants to make a difference – the Seattle AIDS Walk is about coming together as a community.
The ASPEN program is very community-oriented as they not only participate in community events like the Seattle AIDS Walk, but they also act as a greater community resource to teaching their peers about advanced sexual health. “Our presence makes sexual health topics more comfortable for students to talk about and a lot less stigmatized,” Bass states. Megan Feder, facilitator of the ASPEN program, also explains that it is more powerful hearing from the students themselves. “Students are the ones that actually demonstrate how to put on a condom properly and they are the people that other students go to if they need information or resources,” Feder shares. She also adds that the ASPEN program continues to impact the community even after the students graduate. Feder states, “I have a lot of past students emailing me and requesting material because they are doing a presentation for their college dorms.” Even further than that, one previous ASPEN student is now in the Peace Corps doing HIV prevention research in South Africa. If we can learn anything about the ASPEN program, it’s that it creates dedicated HIV advocates.
ASPEN is one of the many groups that we want to thank for helping us provide vital services to people that are affected by HIV. The Seattle AIDS Walk & Picnic on September 29th is a celebration of the community that continues to support the thousands of people living with HIV in Washington State. This year’s new picnic theme is to highlight and commemorate that community.
About the Seattle AIDS Walk & Picnic: We will start with a short walk through Volunteer Park, then come together for the greatest picnic yet. The Chicken Soup Brigade will be on hand providing a BBQ lunch for a suggested $5 donation, or you can BYOB (bring your own blanket) and snacks! The Seattle AIDS Walk & Picnic is pup friendly (bring your furriest of friends!) and will include our famous beer and mimosa garden (let’s party!), but there will also be family-friendly activities for the little walkers in your life. Register now!